Dark Bilious Vapors

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Home » Archives » September 2005 » Iraq Update in Words...

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09/01/2005: Iraq Update in Words...

There are several good article about the current situation in Iraq and the *prevailing wisdom* to be derived from that War Lesson.

To read a few excerpts from these pieces of Peter Daou, David Corn, Howard Fineman and Francis Fukuyama; click on the "more" button.

The Ethics of Iraq: Moral Strength vs. Material Strength by Peter Daou:

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" - Matthew 16:26 -

"The unbridgeable divide between the left and right’s approach to Iraq and the WoT is, among other things, a disagreement over the value of moral and material strength, with the left placing a premium on the former and the right on the latter.

The right (broadly speaking) can’t fathom why the left is driven into fits of rage over every Abu Ghraib, every Gitmo, every secret rendition, every breach of civil liberties, every shifting rationale for war, every soldier and civilian killed in that war, every Bush platitude in support of it, every attempt to squelch dissent. They see the left's protestations as appeasement of a ruthless enemy. For the left (broadly speaking), America’s moral strength is of paramount importance; without it, all the brute force in the world won’t keep us safe, defeat our enemies, and preserve our role as the world’s moral leader.

War hawks squeal about America-haters and traitors, heaping scorn on the so-called “blame America first" crowd, but they fail to comprehend that the left reserves the deepest disdain for those who squander our moral authority. The scars of a terrorist attack heal and we are sadder but stronger for having lived through it. When our moral leadership is compromised by people draped in the American flag, America is weakened. The loss of our moral compass leaves us rudderless, open to attacks on our character and our basic decency. And nothing makes our enemies prouder. They can't kill us all, but if they permanently stain our dignity, they've done irreparable harm to America.

The antiwar critique of Iraq is that it is an immoral war and every resulting death is a wrongful one. Opponents of the war view the invasion and occupation as a dangerous and shameful violation of international law. Iraq saps our moral strength and the sooner we leave the better. Opposing the invasion on the grounds that the administration lied its way into it, they see every subsequent death, American or foreign, as an ethical travesty and a stain on America's good name.

The problem with the Bush apologists' reasoning is that using an infinite time horizon - which they are so fond of - virtually any action, no matter how egregious, can be shown to lead to some positive results. It’s the bastardization of utilitarianism; asserting a causal relationship between a pre-emptive invasion of a sovereign nation and all future good developments in Iraq and the Middle East may swell the hawks' breasts with pride, but it's a dubious and dangerous way to conduct foreign policy.

Which is precisely why we need to adhere so strictly to the rule of law, to basic moral precepts, and to established principles of international relations, something that this administration has failed to do, and that the administration's supporters can dance around but can't justify.

While bumper-sticker patriotism may have anodyne effects on Bush and his followers, the retroactive ethical justifications for the invasion and occupation of Iraq are flimsy at best. And for so many on the left, the undermining of America's moral strength under this administration is more of a "grave and gathering danger" to America than Saddam Hussein ever was.

And this one quote from Howard Fineman (Newsweek) The Q Word:
"...The Battlefield:

...I get the sense from the soldiers I know who have been in Iraq, or who are there now, that they view the situation in the same way (like Viet Nam), at least in the Sunni Triangle. Instead of teenage Vietcong, there are teenage suicide bombers, and we’d have to level the place to “save” it..."

Or yet another from Francis Fukuyama Invasion of the Isolationists
"As we mark four years since Sept. 11, 2001, one way to organize a review of what has happened in American foreign policy since that terrible day is with a question: To what extent has that policy flowed from the wellspring of American politics and culture, and to what extent has it flowed from the particularities of this president and this administration?

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Americans would have allowed President Bush to lead them in any of several directions, and the nation was prepared to accept substantial risks and sacrifices. The Bush administration asked for no sacrifices from the average American, but after the quick fall of the Taliban it rolled the dice in a big way by moving to solve a longstanding problem only tangentially related to the threat from Al Qaeda - Iraq. In the process, it squandered the overwhelming public mandate it had received after Sept. 11. At the same time, it alienated most of its close allies, many of whom have since engaged in "soft balancing" against American influence, and stirred up anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

The Bush administration could instead have chosen to create a true alliance of democracies to fight the illiberal currents coming out of the Middle East. It could also have tightened economic sanctions and secured the return of arms inspectors to Iraq without going to war. It could have made a go at a new international regime to battle proliferation. All of these paths would have been in keeping with American foreign policy traditions. But Mr. Bush and his administration freely chose to do otherwise.

Are we failing in Iraq? That's still unclear. The United States can control the situation militarily as long as it chooses to remain there in force, but our willingness to maintain the personnel levels necessary to stay the course is limited. The all-volunteer Army was never intended to fight a prolonged insurgency, and both the Army and Marine Corps face manpower and morale problems. While public support for staying in Iraq remains stable, powerful operational reasons are likely to drive the administration to lower force levels within the next year.

With the failure to secure Sunni support for the constitution and splits within the Shiite community, it seems increasingly unlikely that a strong and cohesive Iraqi government will be in place anytime soon. Indeed, the problem now will be to prevent Iraq's constituent groups from looking to their own militias rather than to the government for protection. If the United States withdraws prematurely, Iraq will slide into greater chaos. That would set off a chain of unfortunate events that will further damage American credibility around the world and ensure that the United States remains preoccupied with the Middle East to the detriment of other important regions - Asia, for example - for years to come.

We do not know what outcome we will face in Iraq. We do know that four years after 9/11, our whole foreign policy seems destined to rise or fall on the outcome of a war only marginally related to the source of what befell us on that day. There was nothing inevitable about this. There is everything to be regretted about it.”

And this from David Corn (Washington Editor of The Nation): George Bush's Original Sin:
"…Bush is stuck. There is little he can say to affect public opinion. It's been two years since "shock and awe" led to morass and misadventure. The problem these days is not the rhetoric, but the policy. And no matter what Bush says before a hand-picked audience, he cannot escape the original sin.

When Bush took the nation to war, he offered one prime rationale. War-backers now like to claim Bush spoke of democratizing Iraq before the invasion. And he did—occasionally. But on March 17, when he addressed the nation from the Oval Office and gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to skedaddle or face Bush's wrath, he said the "danger was clear." Iraq—"no doubt"—had WMDs it could pass to anti-American terrorists who would use these weapons to "kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country or any other." In Bush's final explanation of the war to come, bringing democracy to Iraq was not the cause; it was merely a necessary part of the post-invasion cleanup.

Blowing the rationale for the war practically guaranteed that Bush would blow the management of the war, for he failed to define the problem accurately (or responsibly). A war to end a WMD threat (even if nonexistent) is different than a war to import democracy. And, worse for the White House, Bush had not prepared the public for years of heavy slogging necessary for the latter, which yields an unending stream of KIAs (killed in action) and a tab totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. Though Bush did give one speech before the war that endorsed the neocons' call for democratizing Iraq by force, Bush never depicted his endeavor in Iraq as a crusade for democracy that would cost much in lives and dollars and that could require a decade or more of effort. In fact, his aides routinely suggested the war would not demand much sacrifice. Now that public has grown impatient and worried about the ongoing trouble in Iraq , Bush has no one to blame but the man at the top—and I don't mean Dick Cheney.

And Bush, given his policy decisions, cannot address this concern. His stay-the-course game plan calls for sticking with the mess; it offers little for anyone looking for a way out. It seems likely that the Iraqis will need years to hammer out differences and forge an effective government with a working security force—if they can manage to do that. An Iranian-allied theocracy and violent sectarian struggle are both possible—if not probable—outcomes as well. Yet Bush declares he is committed to remaining engaged in Iraq, no matter how ugly it gets. Despite the talk weeks ago of reducing troop levels in Iraq, Bush has signaled that's not what he's been thinking about during his bike rides at the ranch. And in his recent PR blitz, he argued that the only way to honor those U.S. troops who are dead because of his bad decision-making is to remain in Iraq and send other Americans to their deaths there. Consequently, he cannot ease popular concern by promising a reduction in U.S. forces.

Nor can he present a "new" plan for victory. First, that would suggest that the "old" plan was flawed. And Bush does not admit failure. Second—and more importantly—the situation he has created in Iraq basically offers two alternatives to Bush's current let's-muddle-through strategy. He could initiate a disengagement, or he could send more troops in an attempt to improve security in Iraq (which might allow for reconstruction to occur). The former is off the table in Bushland (and polls do not yet indicate that most Americans, as upset as they are with the war, are ready to bug out). Besides, deploying more troops would undercut Bush's hollow claim that progress is being made. It would be a tacit admission all is not going well. And it would certainly spark more opposition. By the way, the stretched-thin U.S. military may not even be able to handle such a task. In the first issue of The American Interest, cofounder Francis Fukuyama writes, "the present all-volunteer U.S. Army was never designed to fight a prolonged insurgency, and in the next year the Army and the Marine Corps will face very severe manpower and morale problems."

So Bush cannot do more. He cannot do less. As war skeptics (such as yours truly) predicted would happen before the war, Bush has produced a dilemma with no good solutions. (Adam Garfinkle, a former speechwriter for secretary of state Colin Powell and now editor of The American Interest , notes in the premiere issue that before the war foreign policy experts did foresee the many problems and challenges that would confound the Bush administration following the invasion.) With his limited gifts, Bush cannot talk himself out of the hole he has dug.

Bush, though, is the fellow most on the hook. As the on-the-ground reality in Iraq (political discord, a rise in sectarian violence, steady U.S. casualties) calls more attention to his original sin, Bush cannot find redemption through rhetoric. My hunch is that—finally—many Americans are coming to see that Bush produced a terrible predicament that defies an easy (or perhaps any) resolution. He cannot place the apple back on the tree. And for that, many must pay.

Karen on 09.01.05 @ 09:47 AM CST

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